Not Simple

Artwork at the Aria Casino, Las Vegas, NV

There are some common rules in photographic modernism. One of them is this: keep it simple. There’s a huge prioritization of big, clear, graphic elements, arranged in ways to “lead the eye” to a point of resolution.

I’ve got nothing against that, per se. Some wonderful photographs abide by those those principles.

Nonetheless, I frequently find myself making images that are not simple. Often, at first glance they are cluttered or confusing. [More than once, critics have dismissed my photographs as being busy; I prefer the term 'energized.' ;-) ]. I like to think that persistent, active viewing reveals layers of order. The dictates of modernism often cause people to throw the twin babies of nuance and subtlety out with the bathwater of fussiness.

Complexity should rarely be an end in itself. Complexity is especially valuable if it conveys information otherwise not transmissible, or if it sparks connections, evokes reactions, and inspires insights that are otherwise unavailable. But complexity can be beautiful in itself, and it has the added benefit of demanding that the onlooker linger to get the most from it.

Contemporary society hates complexity because complexity demands that you think. You cannot discuss complex subjects meaningfully in soundbites. Complexity does not lend itself to slogans or chants or taglines. It’s damn hard to sell complexity. No one wants to break a sweat.

It is not just our art, but also our politics and our marketplaces and our educational institutions that are cheapened and impoverished and neutered by a lack of willingness to engage with complexity. The hard parts are often where the good stuff is. They take effort and time to make sense of, but are ultimately incredibly rewarding. And sometimes the only path that will solve a problem lies through a thorny thicket of complexity.

2 Responses to Not Simple
  1. [...] written before about my love for complex images that don’t read in an instant, simple manner. This one has [...]

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